I would first like to preface this post by saying that I am 110 percent behind Ukraine. Russia’s crimes against humanity in the suburbs of Kyiv and their genocidal adoption policy deserve, in my opinion, a response in the form of arms transfers to Ukraine from all countries able to do so. However, despite many impassioned pleas by people urging Israel to send arms to Russia, I just do not see it happening. You might ask why I say this and what qualifications I have to publish an article saying this. While I am early in my career, I have experience in academia studying Israeli arms sales and foreign policy and experience in the Israeli defense industry.
Israel can sell many weapons to Ukraine that would help Ukraine greatly and quickly. These could include optical devices, some of the numerous anti-tank systems Israel makes, a fewof which have ranges far exceeding the famous Javelin (and thus be very helpful for the war in the Donbass, which will take place over much greater ranges than the cramped environments of the Kyiv suburbs), loitering munitions, artillery, and Electronic Warfare/Signals Intelligence systems, amongst others. At best, Israel will send ballistic armor and armored ambulances, both of which it already has done or announced plans to do so.
Russia, unfortunately, has very high amounts of leverage over Israel and it could potentially use that leverage in a way that while it won’t cripple Israel, will make life very uncomfortable for Israel, and might get Israelis and/or Jews killed. This leverage presents itself in three categories: security, hydrocarbons, and Jews. Not surprisingly, Israel has not approved export licenses for weapons sales to either Ukraine or Russia.
Security, obviously, is the most obvious way that Israel could face retaliation by Russia if Israel provides weapons to Ukraine. The “best” case scenario for Israel if it comes to Russian retaliation for any Israeli arms showing up in the Donbass is that Russia stops cooperating with Israel in Syria, which could result in the “accidental” shoot down of an Israeli pilot, preferably in an F-35. The next “best” case scenario for Russian retaliation for Israeli weapons ending up in Ukraine would be weapons sales by Russia to Syria, which would stay in the Syrian arsenal. The next “best” case scenario of Russian retaliation for Israeli arms showing up in Ukraine would be Russian arms ending up in Hezbollah’s arsenal, how advanced these weapons are would depend on the Israeli weapons showing up in Ukraine. The worst-case scenario when it comes to Russian retaliation for Israeli weapons showing up on the battlefield would be Russian arms sales to Iran, again, how advanced the arms sales would be depends on the weapons of Israel that show up in the Donbass. This alone could pose enough of a risk that could make Israeli politicians think twice about having their weapons show up in the Donbass. Additionally, given the close relationship between Netanyahu and Putin, if Netanyahu returns to Balfour, all hopes of Israeli arms sales to Ukraine will be off the table.
The next piece of leverage that Putin has over us is the resources that Russia sells us. While Israel has proven gas and oil resources, they are not developed enough to replace the Russian supplies, which would be very hard to replace. Israel also gets over a hundred million dollars of coal from Russia. While only 10% of Israeli tech exports go to Russia, a cut off of Israeli tech to Russia would have a major impact on Israeli tech.
The third potential issue for Israel that Putin could make if Israeli arms end up in the Donbass would be with the Jews. Putin has espoused a desire to commit genocide in Ukraine and might already be committing genocide, and has committed other war crimes, so who knows what type of depravity this guy is not capable of doing. Even though Putin has been relatively philosemtetic and pro-Israel, Russia has an ugly history of antisemitism. If Israeli arms end up killing Russian soldiers, Putin might make issues for Israel regarding the Jews. For example, Putin could encourage/neither investigate nor stamp out harassment of the around 176,000 Jews living in Russia. Additionally, Putin could make it hard for people to make Aliyah to Israel if Israeli arms are found in the Donbass. The worst case scenario that could result from Israeli arms ending up in the Donbass would be that Putin could turn the hate invective system that is Russian television against the Jews and then who knows where that would lead.
Again, my purpose is not to support Putin with this article. I eagerly await seeing Putin in the Hague. I do not want this piece to be used to scare the Israeli government or Israel into not taking a risk of being on the right side of history. However, the point of this article is to explain why Israel will not likely be selling arms to Ukraine, in the hopes of calling off the antisemites who are harming Jews because Israel is not selling weapons to Ukraine. Because frankly, Russia has some very good leverage over Israel and as a result, one should unfortunately not hold their breath about seeing Israeli arms being used in the fight against Putin.
Ryan O’Connor contributed to this article.